Alexander Jablokov

 

I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction, with a new novel, Brain Thief.

The name is pronounced Yablokov, and the legal name is Jablokow.  My best friends can't spell or pronounce it, so you shouldn't worry about it either.

More here

Write me at alexjablokow [at] comcast.net

I'd love to hear from you.

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"How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry", Asimov's Science Fiction July/August 2017(out now)

"The Forgotten Taste of Honey", Asimov's Science Fiction, October/November 2016

"The Return of Black Murray", Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2016

"The Instructive Tale of the Archeologist and His Wife", Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2014

"Bad Day on Boscobel", The Other Half of the Sky.

"Feral Moon", novella, Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2013

"Since You Seem to Need a Certain Amount of Guidance", Daily Science Fiction, November 6, 2012

"The Comfort of Strangers", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January/February 2012

"Blind Cat Dance" reprinted in Gardner Dozois's Best Science Fiction of the Year 28

"The Day the Wires Came Down", novelette, Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2011

"Plinth Without Figure", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2010

"Warning Label", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine August 2010

"Blind Cat Dance", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine March 2010

Brain Thief, a novel, Tor Books, January 2010

 

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Saturday
Jan212017

Recent reading: Lady Susan

In her teens, Jane Austen wrote an epistolary novella. It was published decades after her death as Lady Susan. It's flawed, but entertaining. Lady Susan is a manipulative yet observantly witty, and is a dominating character--no one else in the narrative is of much interest.

It involves money and marriage, no surprise, and is no one's idea of a romance. Lady Susan tries to marry her daughter off to a wealthy but otherwise inappropriate suitor, but her plans are thrown off by her own urge to misbehave with yet another man. A good manipulator is never manipulated by her own emotions, so Lady Susan falls short of the ideal.

Whit Stillman recently turned the book into the movie Love and Friendship (named after quite a different unfinished Austen work, even though there is little enough of either in the book, or the movie). It's a chilly and austere enterprise, probably not worth seeing if you haven't read the book.

It is interesting to read, because it's always interesting to see a writer working with favorite themes but with incomplete control of technique. Since the novel is written in letters, the letters must be written to someone. So Lady Susan confides all her machinations to her friend Alicia Johnson. Alicia has no role in the narrative, save as uncritical cheerleader to Lady Susan, and is give a perfunctory background life with an unsatisfactory husband. She's a bit like a pillar in the middle of the living room put in to support to roof by an architect who hadn't figured out a way to work it into the design.

In the movie, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) keeps popping into London from the country house she is staying in to visit Alicia (Chloe Sevigny, played as American, presumably to expand the film's market) whenever she needs to talk to her, as if there's a commuter train between the two. If Alicia had been an actual part of the narrative, that would have been easier for Stillman to manage.

One thing I really like about Lady Susan is that she is a bad mom. And this is just a fact about her, not much more terrible than her other personality traits. In most fiction, being a bad mom is the worst thing a woman can be. Bad dad...well, hey, that's a hard job, no wonder us guys screw it up now and then. Lady Susan describes her daughter as a bit of a dullard. Mean, but entirely accurate, in both book and movie. She is phenomenally dull. Her only use really is to get married off so that mom can continue to live an overleveraged life.

The story feels truncated, as if Austen went on to other, more promising projects (Sense and Sensibility, originally Elinor and Marianne was apparently also epistolary in its original draft) and never got back to it. Kind of a pity. If Alicia Johnson, earnest confidante, had turned into an actor in her own right, with goals that gradually diverge from Lady Susan's, it might have been quite something. Call it Will and Idea, and scoop Schopenhauer into the bargain....

I read this for my favorite book group, where I always find myself reading something unexpected.

 

Tuesday
Jan172017

Did you ever notice...?

At the risk of chanToo European for you?nelling the late Andy Rooney: did you ever notice that the small, double basket carts at the grocery store are always gone?

People don't actually fight over the things, at least not here in Cambridge, where people are really well behaved, but sometimes it seems like they should. While there are dozens of the big, traditional shopping carts, large enough to hold an entire side of beef, case of PBR, and a gross of Lean Cuisines, all of which require diving into the depths of the cart to retrieve, the nimble, post-divorce carts are in scarce supply.

Beware, you suburbanites. A Cambridge grocery store will terrify you. The aisles are just wide enough for naked mole rats to squirm over each other. You'll get claustrophobia, and the package sizes will make you feel that you've woken up in Lilliput.

Maybe thisAnything to keep them from scooping food from the shelves sport-model carts have no place in the rest of the country (though there must be plenty of divorced and single people everywhere), but here they are a wonderful invention. I see parents maneuvering those giant carts with the driving simulator on the back (two steering wheels--fortunately, self-driving cars will probably be mandatory before these deluded toddlers get old enough to apply for a license), but then, these people drive Escalades and probably have sectional sofas the size of aircraft carriers at home. For the rest of us, the sport model cart is just what we want.

Particularly for me, since I put my bike panniers in the bottom basket and fill the top.

So why do these grocery stores run out of them so much? There are any number of possible reasons:

  • They are expensive, despite their small size
  • They are easily stolen, damaged, or otherwise require frequent replacement
  • The manufacturers are having trouble filling orders
  • They require their own line, which reduces the available inventory of the tradtional carts prohibitively

You can come up with your own reasons. If I was an actual journalist, I'd do some research and learn what the supply and use contstraints really are, but really I just want to complain. If anyone does figure out an explanation, let me know.

Addendum, 2/1/17: I asked a clerk at the store, and he said that those smaller carts are stolen way more frequently than the big ones. They only have half of their initial purchase of 36 small carts left, and really have to think if it's worth the cost. At least everyone seems to like them!

 

Sunday
Jan082017

Where I'll be at Arisia

I'll be attending our local con, Arisia, next weekend (January 13-15). I probably won't be there Friday night, but will be all day Saturday and Sunday.  If  you're there, say hello. My panels are:

10 am Saturday Fashionpunk
A discussion of various aspects of fashion and SF, with Chris Brathwaite, T. X. Watson, and Nightwing Whitehead.

10 am Sunday How to Self-Edit That Steaming Hot Pile of Crap
Thrilling editing stories and methods, with Trisha Wooldridge, Matthew Kressel, Jackqui B., and Ken Scheneyer.

1 pm Sunday The 100 Year Old Barbed Wire: The Great War & SF
A combination of works by people who went through that war, and works about and influence by it, with Sioban Krzywicki, Greer Gilman, Debra Doyle, and Sonya Taaffe.

Tuesday
Jan032017

'Twas ever thus

Sometimes the world seems totally different, when it is actually completely the same.

I was reading Sean Davis Cashman's America in the Gilded Age (research for a possible book), when I came across an account of a conflict the urban reformer and founder of Chicago's Hull House, Jane Addams, had with a corrupt local boss, Johnny "DePow" Powers.  She wanted to clean the streets of trash, and so launched two campaigns, in 1896 and 1898, to unseat him. She failed both times. As Cashman puts it:

She discovered she could not compete with his reputation for generosity. He boasted that 2,600 ward residents owed their city jobs to him. He distributed railroad passes, Christmas dinners, and free coal. Ordinary people could appreciate such minuscule largess without realizing that they usually paid for it in the extortionate street railway fares Powers secured for his allies, the railway companies. Ironically, they prefered his top hat and opulent life-style to the cloth caps and austere behavior of Addams's candidates.

That "irony", if such it is, will always be with us. The popular politician who lives large and crushes more virtuous opponents is a staple of democratic politics, from Alcibiades's day to this.

Tuesday
Dec272016

Our political Morton Thiokol O-ring

On January 28, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger took off from Kennedy Space Center, in unusually cold temperatures. Morton Thiokol had built the boosters out of four segments each. Field joints containing rubber O-rings seals connected the segments. That morning, the cold rubber of the joints, operating in temperatures far lower than ever tested, became stiff.

A jet of exhaust came through one of the cold-stiff seals and played on an external tank containing oxygen and hydrogen, until the tank exploded. At 73 seconds after liftoff, Challenger came apart. I'd like to say "killing all aboard", but it seems that the crew survived, as the crew compartment continued to climb before free falling into the ocean, finally killing everyone aboard.

This was the result of "normal deviance": things seemed fine on every other day, so poor practices continued, shrinking safety margins. Because safety margins are a pain in the ass.

Increasing bank capital requirements can lower the risk of catastrophic 2008-type failures and bailouts, as Neel Kashkari, president of the Minneapolis Fed has proposed, but at the cost of higher interest rates and lower growth (the most recent episode of the Planet Money podcast has that story). Repairing infrastructure before it actually falls down costs money taxpayers always bitch about. Computer security slows things down, and makes interactions more difficult. Security precautions are always annoying, and no one can tell which ones are effective. Earthquake-proofing buildings in tectonically active areas is expensive, time-consuming, and can affect how buildings look.

If nothing bad happens for awhile (and that "awhile" doesn't have to be very long) people start cutting corners. They get irritated at inspectors, security drills, perfectly good money spent for no visibly good reason. They get to think that you should only worry about problems that happen visibly and regularly. Even trained engineers and technicians, like those that day at KSC can fall prey to it. It's not obvious. And, until something goes really wrong, the problem is invisible, because failure is sudden and dramatic, rather than slow and visible.

Our economic and political system seems robust, flexible, and responsive. And I'm sure it is. Still, both democracy and capitalism are essentially unnatural. Both insist on valuing strangers as much as personal contacts, tell you that costs in the short term lead to benefits in the long term, and are complex and opaque. Maintenance and upgrades have to be continuous, and that work can be quite tiresome and unrewarding.

We have elected a Morton Thiokol O-ring as President.  Assume nothing, and keep your eye on the thermometer.